Innovation: The Key to Engagement and Enrichment
Albert Einstein once wrote, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”
Yet, a recent Gallup survey shows that nationally, only one-third of teachers in the United States are engaged and committed to the work they do. The engagement data for students is only slightly more promising. In 2013, Gallup reported approximately 55 percent of students nationally are engaged, demonstrating involvement and expressing enthusiasm for school.
How do we increase the engagement score for both students and teachers? I believe school professional learning communities are one way to “awaken joy” for learning in both teachers and students.
The PLC concept is nothing new. The key components of a PLC include collaboration, student learning, and a focus on results, which are clear and well documented. Great PLC teams focus on the following four questions: What is it we expect our students to learn? How we will know when they have learned it? How will we respond when some students do not learn? and How will we respond when some students already know it? When teams are organized around these key areas and focus on the four critical questions, great things happen.
I have seen wonderful examples of model teams who have worked together to make significant changes that have positively impacted student learning. I watched a middle school math team humbled by a set of state math testing results. A year later, this team, focusing on the four critical questions, turned around those results. They focused their attention on understanding indicators, developing common assessments, using information from the assessments to make adjustments to instruction, and creating an intentional intervention plan for struggling students. Their focused commitment was the key to their success.
This brings me back to the beginning of this blog. Increasingly, I have wondered if PLCs serve another purpose. When teachers take the time to discuss classroom instruction, should they also discuss innovation?
In Omaha Westside Community Schools, we have just completed a visioning process with a design team, staff, and the community. As part of this process, we learned that our community is excited about our teachers being innovative and trying new things. As a result, we are flexing our PLC process. Next year, our teams will still be allotted blocks of time to meet for what could be considered traditional PLC meetings. However, Westside is also providing time and support for teams to have intentional conversations about innovation and engagement, qualities that are inherent to our district vision.
We are already seeing the results of these types of conversations in our schools. For example, this year three of our elementary schools have developed a pilot program for schoolwide enrichment. Activities like students building their own video game while learning about math and programming could not be done without time for PLC teams to discuss these innovations. One of the building principals recently shared with me that the student buzz on enrichment days in the hallways is palpable. Students are repeatedly thanking her for the enrichment activities, proclaiming that school is so much fun! Teachers are revitalized and engaged too.
We hope to increase innovations like this one at Westside. By creating this mixed model, we are allowing Westside teachers to continue having conversations about learning while challenging them to develop innovations that will engage both themselves and our students.